Amazing Automation: Revolutionize Your Laboratory’s Workflow for Increased Efficiency

Digital Solutions

Automatic spot picker.
Equipment automation can help harness occupational burnout.
Credit: Jean-Etienne Poirrier via Wikimedia Commons

When I worked in a lab, there was one (and only one) feature that could successfully lure me into a sales pitch by a sales rep: automation. You have a machine that can load my entire PCR plate by itself? I’ll talk to my boss. You have a machine that can homogenize 10 tissue samples at a time? Where do I sign? I’m sure our grant will cover it.

Of course, in many academic research labs, the mentor wants his students and post-docs to experience a certain amount of laborious, tedious work. That’s what they had to do back before they had the structure of DNA, right? But other than an academic rite of passage, unskilled, repetitious activity serves no beneficial purpose in the real world where efficiency matters. Let’s take a look at how automation is revolutionizing research labs:

Equipment and data automation

I’m not a psychologist, but I think it’s safe to say that tedious, repetitive tasks can lead to occupational burnout. Scientists and other analytical thinkers are probably more susceptible to this frustration, as they would prefer to be designing experiments or analyzing data rather than pipetting a solution 96 times and getting trigger finger.

Fortunately, great progress has been made in automating laboratory techniques. From electronic repeater pipettes to 96-well plate readers, scientists are spending less time on tasks and more time critically analyzing their data. One great feature of the electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) is the ability to collect data from a linked analyzer and immediately have the ELN perform data analysis, prepare a presentation, and report your findings. By linking equipment and automating data capture and analysis, your lab will be saving precious time.

Automated chemical inventory management

We all have that one guy in the lab – the one who always puts back empty chemical bottles or “forgets” to order replacement antibodies after he used the last vial. I would spend an hour designing my 7-color flow cytometry experiment just to find out that the antibody I needed was gone, and it would take over a week to get a new one. Back to the drawing board and another hour of planning. Other than being extremely frustrating, this situation is very wasteful of our most valuable resource: time.

In the year 2014, these is absolutely no reason that these issues, the result of poor chemical inventory management, occur in a research lab. An automated chemical inventory management system is really the best solution to dealing with human error. Our ELN can be linked with the digital chemical inventory management system, so that when you’re planning your experiments you will have real-time info on how much antibody you have left and quickly order more if it’s running low. That means you don’t have to get up from your desk 15 times to check the chemicals in the freezer, the fridge, or on the shelf to make a good guess at how much is left in the vial. Furthermore, if you need to purchase more, the catalog and vendor information is already recorded in the system for easy reordering.

Communication automation

I hope I don’t offend anyone with this next statement, but let’s be honest – scientists aren’t typically known for their social interaction skills. Extroversion is contrary to the analytical personality type. So what could sound better than automating communication?!

Of course I don’t mean all communication should be automated, but our ELN can alert other scientists in your workflow when you’re finished with your task and let them know that they can start their task. They can also be given access to your data and analysis, and vice versa, for easier communication and collaboration. What’s great about automating communication is that it occurs in the same standard language. Not necessarily the English language, but the standard scientific language for the company. That means that everyone’s spreadsheets, measurements and calculations are termed accordingly for easy interpretation and less confusion.

Contrary to the beliefs of many workers, automation is not necessarily a replacement for human skills; rather it can be complementary to human roles. By letting the computers do the grunt work, your lab can spend more time doing what you’re best at – thinking and planning.

Labs should consider implementing automation solutions, which could help streamline laboratory processes and improve efficiency. Visit Accelrys’ website to take a look at automation products that could help your company compete in the global market.

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